By Peter Hernandez
Supervisor Jane Kim recently spent a night at a homeless shelter in the Tenderloin, finding what she described as warmth, generosity and “an incredible support network.”
As District 6 supervisor Kim represents areas of the city with the highest concentration of shelters, like the Tenderloin and South of Market.
The typically high-heeled supervisor went unnoticed in jeans, a sweatshirt and flat-soled boots as she waited at the Mission Neighborhood Resource Center at 240 Shotwell St. on Jan. 18 to put her name in to reserve a space at a shelter.
“I did receive a bed an hour and half later at Next Door Shelter here in our district,” Kim reported during the Jan. 23 Board of Supervisors meeting. “I did check in at Next Door at 7 o’clock and stayed there for the next 12 hours.”
Next Door Shelter, at Polk and Geary streets in the Tenderloin, provides 24-hour emergency shelter with 334 beds and two meals daily for homeless people, including those suffering from substance abuse and those “coping with mental health and chronic medical conditions,” according to its website.
“I was the youngest woman there. It was surprising to see so many older women. They provided me advice and support knowing it was my first night there,” said Kim.
“I was really shocked by how generous other clients were,” said Kim at a community meeting on Treasure Island on Feb. 15. “When you meet someone so generous, it reminds you how much you have to give.”
Kim was struck by the amount of time clients spend in shelters and contended that it is the city’s opportunity to provide health assessments through the Department of Public Health.
She has proposed a hearing for March 22 on expanding programs available at San Francisco’s homeless shelters.
Kim and her staff hope to implement best practices of programs from other cities and to integrate already-existing San Francisco services into shelters.
“We see ideas and resources all around us in San Francisco, and we want to pull those together alongside stories from the homeless,” said Matthias Mormino, a legislative aide to Kim.
Programs they are looking at include mental health evaluations conducted while people are waiting in line for admittance and a simple system of in-shelter libraries.
City College’s Homeless At-Risk Transitional Students Program has a similar vision for providing resources to people in shelters.
HARTS provides reduced public transportation fare, free food cards for the Smith Hall cafeteria and academic advising.
In order to join the program, students “have to verify they are staying in a shelter,” said Tina Esquer, a student assistant at the HARTS program.
This helps them to determine if a student is eligible for their services and allows them to suggest other shelters to students who have been made wary by previous shelter experiences.
HARTS has been coordinated by Chris Shaeffer, professor of earth sciences and mathematics, since 1992 . Although the program has recently seen an expansion in the number of students it serves, it is operating with an increasingly limited amount of resources from City College.
“We are having difficulty with the Smith Hall food cards,” said Shaeffer, referring to a lack of funding to provide free meals for his 147 students, three of whom were added to the program just the week before this article was published.
Taking leftover money from discounted Clipper cards to fund free food cards would help, Shaeffer said. He believes the separate accounts should be merged in order to make full use of the funds available.
A sign outside the HARTS office currently states, “We cannot take any more students,” but Shaeffer says he will make exceptions for students with extraordinary needs.
“I have had students with sad stories, and we want them to be successful,” said Esquer.
Shaeffer encourages success by providing academic advising to students in his program. He wants to begin recording the number of students who transfer to four-year universities. This data, he said, might help him get more funding from the Chancellor’s office.
Some students, like Carolino Moscoso, have found affordable housing and work through Shaeffer’s program.
Moscoso, a 21-year-old Women’s Studies major, was referred to HARTS through the African-American Studies department and now works for Shaeffer.
“Having a place to live and rest and lay down in makes going to school much better. I don’t know how I managed to finish my courses when I was homeless,” Moscoso said.